I would be surprised to learn of a better investigative reporter ever than Jack Cashill," writes an admirer on the conservative news site World Net Daily. A reader of the liberal blog Wonkette is less impressed: "Whoever is in charge of Jack Cashill's medications needs to up the dosage."
The most fearsome or the most disturbed journalist in America — take your pick — arrives at a Plaza café on a day ripe for conspiracy theories. The previous night, President Barack Obama announced that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden in northern Pakistan. Commenters on the websites that publish Cashill and discuss his work have already begun to question the official version of events. Cashill worried about al-Qaida's response as he waited for the president to make his televised address.
"In that 30-minute lead-up to the announcement, I thought there was a nuclear bomb in New York City and that the country was going to blow up," he says. "I had spent half an hour imagining the worst."
Hustling assignments and making a living as a freelance writer requires charm, and Cashill has it. He isn't the least confrontational, despite talking to a reporter who works at a publication that has described Cashill as a "crackpot" and an "intellectual clown shoe." He asks after his would-be profiler's life in a way that reflects genuine interest, but it's curdled by a certain smugness that's a hazard for chess prodigies, high-functioning alcoholics and others who think they're smart enough to stay three steps ahead.
Cashill's first book to question the government line was published in 2003. First Strike: TWA Flight 800 and the Attack on America (co-written with James Sanders) posited that the U.S. military accidentally shot down a passenger jet that exploded off the coast of Long Island in 1996; the intended target of the Navy missile was a plane piloted by terrorists. The story that the public was fed — mechanical failure — was in reality a cover-up by then-President Bill Clinton to ensure the "scandal" wouldn't hurt his re-election chances.
Cashill followed it with six more books on the liberal plots to lie to Americans, punish conservatives and remake the country as a socialist prison. His latest release, Deconstructing Obama: The Life, Loves, and Letters of America's First Postmodern President, has sold 20,000 copies and is on track to become his biggest seller yet.
"I think we'll probably get another sales bump when the re-election campaign starts, and after that I think we'll have gone as far as we can go with it," Cashill says. "But I'm very happy with the response. People want to know the true story about this guy."
More than any of his other works, Deconstructing Obama has connected Cashill to the zeitgeist. Researchers working for Donald Trump solicited input from Cashill when the reality-television boss was threatening a run for president and was indulging birther fantasies. In March, Cashill appeared on the Fox News morning show Fox & Friends.
This is the theory that has elevated him to national news programs and to tea partiers' nightstands: Obama did not write the books that helped establish him as a brand on a par with Coca-Cola or Playboy. Cashill believes that the author of Obama's acclaimed 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father, was actually Bill Ayers, the former Weather Underground leader whose association with Obama became an issue during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Cashill's evidence is a tangle of anonymous informants, personal theories on creative writing, and metaphors repeated in both Obama's and Ayers' prose. The assembled coincidences can be a potent enticement down the rabbit hole. There's no smoking gun, but Cashill is convinced.